'Cleansing' row prompts crisis in Vojvodina

A CONFRONTATION in Serbia's Vojvodina province threatens to touch off violent unrest throughout the region, and test the resolve of the reformist Yugoslav government under Milan Panic to stop 'ethnic cleansing'.

The crisis began last week when Yugoslav officials under Mr Panic arrested five radical Serbian activists who had seized power in the mostly Croatian village of Hrtkovci, 40 miles from Belgrade. Led by Ostoja Sibincic, a Serbian veteran from last year's war in Croatia, the five were accused of the illegal possession of weapons. The arrests followed a complaint to Mr Panic by leaders of Vojvodina's 80,000 Croatian minority alleging they were targets of organised harassment, forced expulsions and killings.

In Hrtkovci, groups of radicalised Serbs, many of them fighters from Croatia, invaded the village this spring and started expelling local residents. Croatians who failed to surrender their homes were beaten up, and a man who refused to hand over his house was murdered. Of 5,000 Croats who lived in Hrtkovci last year, only hundreds remain. The new Serbian bosses ripped down street signs in Latin letters and replaced them with Cyrillic signs. Streets were renamed and so was the village. The activists have rechristened Hrtkovci 'Srbislavci' - 'place of Serbs'.

To challenge the resolve of the Yugoslav authorities, Serbian hardliners in Hrtkovci have delivered an ultimatum. They say they will barricade roads round the village tomorrow, if Mr Sibincic and the other detainees are not released from jail today.

The tactics of the Hrtkovci activists echo the opening phase of the war in Croatia last year, when the seizure of villages by groups of well-armed Serbian activists touched off a bloody, six-month struggle in which thousands of people were killed and hundreds of thousands lost their homes.

It seems impossible to imagine this bloodthirsty scenario replayed in Vojvodina, a rich agricultural province where 55 per cent of Serbs have peacefully coexisted for centuries with large Hungarian, Croat and Slovak communities.

But tensions in Vojvodina have spiralled this year, as waves of radicalised, homeless Serbian refugees from Croatia and Bosnia pour into the region. They are political fodder for Vojislav Seselj, a neo-fascist figure on the Serbian political scene, espousing an ethnically pure, enlarged Serbia. He is a close ally of Serbia's ultra-nationalist President, Slobodan Milosevic.

Mr Seselj visited Hrtkovci in July and touched off the persecution of local Croats by publicly reading out a list of 17 local 'traitors' who had to leave the village.

The struggle over Hrtkovci involves higher stakes than the fate of one village. If the Serbian extremists are released, the authority of Mr Panic and his federal government will have suffered a severe blow. It would be a signal to radical Serbian activists to launch fresh attacks against Vojvodina's much bigger 400,000 Hungarian community.

Any move to remove the Hungarians would certainly spark off widespread unrest in the northern province, which had enjoyed a good deal of autonomy from Serbia until Mr Milosevic took power in Belgrade.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Sir David Attenborough
people
Life and Style
Young girl and bowl of cereal
food + drink
News
Comic miserablist Larry David in 'Curb Your Enthusiasm'
peopleDirector of new documentary Misery Loves Comedy reveals how he got them to open up
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Sport
football
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Life and Style
David Bowie by Duffy
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
Hell, yeah: members of the 369th Infantry arrive back in New York
booksWorld War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel
News
advertisingVideo: The company that brought you the 'Bud' 'Weis' 'Er' frogs and 'Wasssssup' ads, has something up its sleeve for Sunday's big match
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
i100
Environment
Dame Vivienne Westwood speaking at a fracking protest outside Parliament on Monday (AP)
environment
Life and Style
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: This post arises as a result of the need to...

Tradewind Recruitment: Class Teacher Required ASAP In Uminster

£120 - £150 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: I am recruiting on instruction o...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wimbledon, SW London

£24000 - £28000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wim...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness